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Thursday, August 14, 2014

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Episode #4


Directed by Nagase Samaji

A super rocket loaded with six nuclear bombs to be used for some unspecified project in the development of Jupiter hurtles back to Earth, crashing into the sea. One bomb explodes, four are eventually recovered, but one goes missing. The Science Patrol investigates to locate the missing device. A giant humanoid fish monster shows up, and attacks a resort where Fuji, Hoshino, and Michiko are spending an afternoon. Discovering the missing bomb is attached to the beasts scaly hide, the Patrol think of a plan to keep the bomb from going off.

ULTRAMAN continues to be a consistently fun series light on story, but heavy on monsters and small screen special effects. The experimentation of SPX continues in this action-centric episode that presents the second water-based beast, but the first Earth-born sea monster (Bemlar in episode one was an alien that took up residence in a lake). In the program itself, there's no backstory to Lagon other than it grew giant-sized upon being exposed to nuclear radiation. For a better background on Lagon, see its ULTRA Q incarnation where the Lovecraft connection is obvious.

There's an eye-opening amount of composite work, as well as some miniatures -- such as a vessel sank by Lagon. The battle with Ultraman is brief, if fast-paced. Yet again, the spaceman's foe has a flame attack identical to Godzilla's, and utilizing the same sound effect. In subsequent Ultra series's that came after ULTRAMAN and ULTRASEVEN, the amount of effects trickery would be gradually depleted; which is another reason this first giant superhero show is so fondly remembered by fans young and old.

The undersea dwelling monster Lagon is one of many suits built by busy monster maker, Ryosaku Takayama. Lagon (listed also as Ragon) first appeared in episode 20 of ULTRA Q. There it was of the feminine persuasion, but a male here in ULTRAMAN. The monster would turn up a few more times in other ULTRA related properties, and most recently in ULTRAMAN GINGA, and once more as a female monster in that series. Takayama's suit would get a makeover for episode 20 of the original ULTRAMAN where it was transformed into Alien Zarab. Whereas the Baragon costume was frequently recycled, so to was his voice. Lagon has the same deep tonality of that lovable puppy dog kaiju of FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON (1965). 

The name 'Lagon' recalls both H.P. Lovecraft and Jack Arnold's CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954); the latter of which represented a superb example of rubber suit excellence.

Izumi Umenosuke was inside the Lagon suit; and would play Magura, one of four monsters in episode 8. A few years later, Izumi would graduate to playing Gamera at Daiei for GAMERA VS. GUIRON (1969) and GAMERA VS. JIGER (1970). Ironically, Satoshi Furuya, who played the iconic Ultraman, was underneath the Lagon rubber suit for its ULTRA Q origin.

Director Nagasi was previously an AD for Akira Kurosawa and Ishiro Honda. This was his first of five directed episodes of ULTRAMAN, and one of a few in which he wrote the screenplay.

Koichi Takano was the primary SPX director for ULTRAMAN. He kicked the series off, but Matoba Toru handled duties on eps. 2 and 3. Takano would oversee special effects direction of 32 episodes. He signed with Toho in 1954 and worked as the DP assistant on GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN in 1955. He moved up to special effects photographer on ULTRA Q in 1965, and finally as the SPX director when ULTRAMAN went into production the following year. In 1981 he became managing director at Tsuburaya Studios. In 2003 he, along with others, stepped down from the Board of Directors after mismanagement led to the company to be embroiled in devastating lawsuits with Chaiyo of Thailand. On November 30th, 2008, Koichi Takano passed away of complications from Pulmonary Disease aged 73.

Primarily an action episode, there's little else to be found here. The bizarre gimmick of having music sooth the savage beast briefly turns up, but it feels like an afterthought. 'Five Seconds to Detonation' was one of only two ULTRAMAN shows to perform below 30% viewership of the popular series's 39 episode run.

MONSTERS: Lagon (Ragon)

To be continued in Episode 5: SECRET OF THE MILOGANDA!!!

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